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September 1, 2013
Final take: NU must learn from growing pains
Sometimes in the heart of Fall Camp it's easy to get caught up in August hype. All off-season everybody knew there were a lot of questions Nebraska had to answer on defense.
However, over the last couple of weeks many thought this young Husker defense had turned the corner and they had the makings of a great unit.
What we saw on Saturday night in Nebraska's 37-34 victory over Wyoming was a different story. NU gave up 602 yards and 35 first downs to a Cowboy team that went 4-8 in 2012. It was the most yards ever given up by a Husker defense in a season opener and the most first downs Nebraska has ever allowed in a single game in school history.
"There are a lot of things that we need to get fixed. I told our team, 'I hope this serves as an example for you that what I'm saying is true. That every single day is important for this football team,'" head coach Bo Pelini said. "I said going into the game that we need to make a big jump between week one and week two as far as just being out there for the first time and understanding what it takes - the type of preparation and what you do - to play the best football that you can.
"I think we'll learn a lot from this game. I know that we as a coaching staff will learn a lot about our football team. We'll learn a lot by watching this film and we'll be better because of it. I'm glad we got a win. I was expecting a lot cleaner performance, but by no means am I panicking because I also saw some good things."
There were moments on Saturday where it felt like Nebraska was going to pull away with this game, but just when you thought they were going to finish Wyoming they stepped on their own foot.
Quarterback Taylor Martinez threw an interception inside the red zone and fumbled a sneak play on fourth-and-1. He also looked to have suffered an injury to his non-throwing shoulder.
Meanwhile Cowboy quarterback Brett Smith danced around the field like a poor man's Johnny Manziel and made big play after big play to keep Wyoming in it.
Saturday will not be a game people will want to watch on their DVR when they get home. It almost had the feel of an NFL preseason game with the amount of personnel NU was moving on and off the field. The Husker defense could never get the big play or two they needed to get the crowd in the game.
The positive is Nebraska still found a way to close the deal on Wyoming and give a lot of young faces some valuable playing time. The next step will be to find as many teachable moments going forward.
I can promise you when UCLA comes to town on Sept. 14 they won't leave points off the board like Wyoming did on Saturday. The Bruins racked up 647 yards on Nevada, and it's no secret they will arguably be the best offense the Huskers will face this season.
On to the post game breakdown and grade out .
What I saw on Saturday
***I really liked the way Tim Beck rotated in his running backs, but I was surprised when the game was on the line late they stuck with freshman Terrell Newby over junior Ameer Abdullah.
***I felt like Wyoming played their safeties up all night, which opened up a lot of potential chances for deep shots down field in one-on-one coverage. I would've liked to have seen Beck go deep more and try to loosen up Wyoming's safeties.
***It's hard not to be excited about the future potential of Newby at running back. He hits the edge with an incredible burst.
***Junior Mike Moudy saw extensive playing time at guard over Jake Cotton on Saturday.
***After senior Mohammed Seisay made a few mistakes in coverage, NU went with freshman Nathan Gerry in the dime corner role on Saturday. I thought Gerry showed some flashes, and he's well on his way to becoming a solid player in this defense.
***One of my biggest concerns was the lack of overall pass rush by Nebraska's defense. I felt like there were several times where they should've gotten to Smith, but came up empty handed.
***I have questions about the health of Martinez coming out of this game. Pelini said Martinez is "fine," but he did not address reporters after the game. He walked out of the post-game interview room with ice on his shoulder and was noticeably fighting off pain throughout the game. He also was making handoffs with right hand when he should've been using his left hand in different situations.
The final grades
Rushing offense: B+
Nebraska rushed for 375 yards on 63 carries for an average of 6.0 yards per carry. Those are obviously great numbers, but NU's inability to finish out the game on the ground and also Martinez's fumble drop the grade to a B+.
Passing offense: C
Martinez was an efficient 17-of-22, but only had 155 yards passing. He also threw an interception in the red zone on a pass to Sam Burtch. My biggest question though is why did NU not go down field more? The deep ball was there, but was Martinez's shoulder injury keeping Tim Beck from calling deep plays down field? It's hard to say right now, because we weren't given a lot of answers on Saturday.
Rushing defense: F
Wyoming ran for 219 yards on 30 carries and NU had a very hard time in slowing them down. Smith also was able to make some big runs down field when he emptied out the box. The Huskers had only one tackle for loss the entire night.
Passing defense: D-
Nebraska gave up 375 yards through the air, but Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Ciante Evans were able to come up with timely interceptions inside the red zone. NU failed to get an effective pass rush on Smith, and they also struggled with covering in space.
Special teams: B+
One of the most impressive players on Saturday was redshirt freshman punter Sam Foltz, who averaged 45.6 yards on five punts, including a long of 56 yards. Foltz has the makings to be Nebraska's next great punter and it was exciting to see the ball boom off his foot. Kicker Pat Smith made his only field goal, but he did shank an extra point that ended up making it a three point game vs. a four point game. I thought Kenny Bell looked good not only in the return game, but also as a gunner on the punt coverage team.
Sean Callahan can be reached at [email protected] and he can be heard each day at 6:50 am and 4:50 pm on Big Red Radio 1110 KFAB in Omaha during the football season. He can also be seen on KETV Channel 7 TV in Omaha during the fall and each week he appears on NET's Big Red Wrap Tuesday's at 7 pm.